2009-01-21 / Restaurant of the Week

PHILIPPU...Exotic Philippine Cuisine

PHILIPPU...Exotic Philippine Cuisine

Philippu is a quaint new restaurant featuring traditional Philippine cuisine served by friendly hosts in a comfortable setting. The corner location is enclosed by glass doors which allow you to see the exposed brick wall, wood floors and tables covered in crisp white linens topped with candles. Located on the former site of "Rizzo's" on 21st Street in Astoria, Philippu was recently taken over by the congenial owner Julio Souza and his lovely wife Juvy, a native of the Philippines.

Three centuries of Spanish rule helped create the unique cuisine of this south Asian country, which is made up of hundreds of islands. Philippine cuisine is an interesting and often exotic fusion of Spanish pork-centric dishes, fish, Asian sauces, rice and tropical herbs and spices. While you may not be able to pronounce all the items on the menu, one thing I can promise is that it's all delicious and beautifully presented on gleaming white plates of varying shapes.

Start with a steaming bowl of sinigang, or tamarind soup, with vibrant vegetables and your choice of pork, beef, fish or shrimp, served in an attractive square bowl. The broth is clear and bright with the flavor of lemon grass, one of my favorite Asian herbs. A traditional soup from the southern part of the country is called La Paz Batchoy and is replete with noodles, pork, beef, liver and egg. Any of their soups takes the chill right out of your bones and many believe that they can cure a cold! Appetizers are served in generous portions and allow the whole table to share them.

A variety of three different spring rolls is available, including delicate, petite rolls filled with ground pork and mild spices, served with sweet and sour dipping sauce ($7). Similar rolls can be ordered with vegetables or meat and served with peanut sauce. Ukoy are tasty shrimp fritters made with plump prawns, bean sprouts, shredded carrots and tofu, all fried to a golden brown and served with an addictive vinegar sauce ($8).

The entrée list offers something for everyone, including meat, chicken, fish and shrimp and vegetables. One of the most authentic dishes is called Kare-Kare, a rich stew of oxtail in peanut sauce ($10). I tried another classic Philippine dish called Caldereta, a soul-warming dish of either beef or goat stewed for hours with tomato and herbs to render the meat so tender, you can cut it with a fork. The sauce is flavored with mild, aromatic spices and you'll want to spoon it over the fluffy white rice that accompanies the main course. Menudo is a hearty stew made with either pork or liver and reflects the Spanish heritage where inexpensive cuts of meat were turned into delicacies with careful cooking and seasoning. Sweet and sour fish Escabeche, an impressive dish, is a whole tilapia fish gently deep fried until golden and crispy, then topped with a tropical sweet and sour sauce scented with lemon grass and red peppers. The fish was so flaky and moist and once again, the sauce was excellent on the rice ($12).

If you want a dish that reflects the Asian side of this fine cuisine, then try one of their fabulous noodle dishes, stir fried with your choice of chicken, pork, beef or shrimp and lots of vegetables ($8.50). Spicy mixed seafood features calamari, squid and shrimp in coconut milk with a spicy kick ($11). Plump shrimp are sautéed in garlic, lemon and cilantro, served over yellow rice.

Finish your flavorful meal with cool, creamy flan custard and a scoop of purple yam custard. Fried banana with vanilla ice cream or mixed fruit with sweet yam and shaved ice will satisfy your sweet tooth. A variety of fruit juices and soft drinks is available, or bring your own wine or beer while they await their license. Philippu is open seven days a week from 10am to 10pm and will gladly deliver to your home or office. For Valentine's Day, live music is planned featuring local Philippine singers, but don't wait until then to try this flavorful and unique cuisine, shaped by diverse cultures.

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